October 29, 2015

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Going Rogue: Modern Dredge Control

Hello and welcome back to another edition of Going Rogue, where winning isn't the goal but it often happens anyways.

Do you like decks that win on turn three? Do you like doing infinite damage out of nowhere? Do you like nimble synergies that leave your opponent cautious about each possible card in your hand? Then this is not the deck for you.

No, Dredge Control is literally incapable of winning before turn six, and realistically incapable of winning before turn... oh... twenty? Meanwhile its finisher piles on the lethal points of damage at a whopping rate of three per turn, and the most nimble thing you're likely ever to do is Snapcaster Mage an Ancestral Recall effect... okay I guess that's kind of cool. But by and large, this deck is clunky, expensive, challenging, and extremely vulnerable to graveyard hate. But it does win games, and if you don't mind those other things, it's a whole lot of fun too. Let's take a look at what it's made of:

Part 1: Enabling the graveyard.

First things first, let's take a look at our playable Dredge options.

Unlike an aggressive Dredgevine deck, this control build is going to value versatility over reliability and speed, so we are definitely going to value diversity in our selections here. Each of these cards do something unique. Golgari Grave-Troll is a nearly unstoppable finisher, and the best Dredger in the game. Stinkweed Imp is cheap to cast, always gets his man, and is the second-best Dredger in the game. Got an important body to regain access to? Golgari Thug has you covered. Meanwhile, Life from the Loam smoothes mana access and offers a Raven's Crime lock, and Darkblast can simply ruin certain decks with little hope of recovery.

On one hand, all of these are great. On the other, this deck gains little by ensuring its Dredge engine starts early, so we can play these more sparingly than usual. At the end of the day, this is what it boiled down to:

  • Golgari Grave-Troll: 0 - While a terrific finisher in most scenarios, my beloved GGT is still vulnerable to Path to Exile, and at a converted mana cost of five, I'd be cautious about him getting stuck in my hand in a 22-land deck. Besides, we have a better finisher that I'll get to later.
  • Stinkweed Imp: 2 - Stinky is great in this deck. A one-for-one blocker on demand that helps fill the graveyard as you go. The imp sets the attrition gears in motion - you just need to be mindful of both your life total and library size.
  • Golgari Thug: 1 - Terribly clunky, but Golgari Thug can help recur some very important pieces of our deck. Even if it's a turn later, getting back a clutch creature like Snapcaster Mage will very often be the difference between winning and losing.
  • Life from the Loam: 1 - Even the aggressive Dredge decks run Loam + Raven's Crime, and the fit here is better than ever. Also, with only 22 lands in the deck, Loam becomes a reasonable early play to help set up the rest of the game.
  • Darkblast: Sideboard 2 - In certain meta environments, Darkblast could be a main deck card. As it is, however, we have more versatile options for the main deck, and the Dredge 2 isn't significant enough to compensate for the times it's going to be a dead card. But against ramp decks and aggressive X/1 opponents such as Affinity and Infect, it is going to make a difference. So the sideboard is where it lives.

Meanwhile, the deck sports a few other ways to enhance its Dredge-support. Thought Scour is a must-have, and appears as one of the deck's two four-ofs, and Jace, Vryn's Prodigy is possibly at his very best in a build like this, so in spite of the $70 price tag, I'd like to play three.

Part 2: Staying Alive
The 12 cards above that form the engine of the deck only do so much to keep us alive. In a format as fast as Modern is, we need some very quick answers to the most common threats that appear in the first two or three turns of the game. Fortunately, we're in Sultai, and have access to an excellent control suite between creature killing, permission spells, and good-ol' trusty Abrupt Decay. Keeping in the game will be done via a total of 21 cards from among the below, with the specific quantities listed in the decklist a little further down.

I won't Delve into the logic behind these selections, as they are largely self-explanatory and nearly applicable to any UB-based control deck. Instead, let's move along to the interesting part:

Part 3: Turning the Corner
For those not counting, we've already seen 33 cards in this deck without coming across a win condition. (I did promise clunky, after all.) Never fear - the last five nonland cards in the deck are here to get the job done.

First, we have a single copy of Visions of Beyond - the Ancestral Recall I mentioned earlier. The deck already sports a fair amount of card advantage, but this is the card to really seal the deal. Getting twenty cards into the bin is a very feasible goal, and with such a high removal count, this caliber of restock puts you immediately in the driver seat if you weren't already there.

Second, we have three copies of Scavenging Ooze. This is the main reason for running Golgari Thug. The little bit of life gain offered here goes a very long way, and Scooze can easily get big enough in this deck to not only become an immense blocker, but it can start to swing back in meaningful ways as well. But it's really here because of...

Misthollow Griffin. Between Scavenging Ooze and Murderous Cut, there is simply nothing your opponent can do about this card except slowly die to it. It is going to take a while, but you'll get there sooner or later. If your opponent kills it with a Lightning Bolt or Terminate, you just fuel your next exile "cost" with it and cast it again, and if Path to Exile their answer of choice, the process gets even easier. And often you won't even lose turns between attacks, thanks to Alchemist's Refuge.On the other hand, there are a few modern playables that brickwall it, such as Restoration Angel or Celestial Colonnade. But if our removal suite can't get us through them, we can simply hold it back on perpetuous defense and let Jace, Vryn's Prodigy tick up until a millstorm is within reach.

If for one reason or another this fails, or you simply can't seem to Dredge into your Griffin, Creeping Tar Pit and Lumbering Falls slowly get there as well, and also sport the same degree of inevitability thanks to Life from the Loam working double-duty.

The Decklist

Part 4: Strengths and Weaknesses
This deck is certainly unique, and with its eccentricities come a handful of inbuilt strengths and weaknesses in the Modern meta.

  • + Between Golgari Thug and Snapcaster Mage, Dredge Control can quickly establish an ability to access a huge portion of its deck on demand. Each card in your graveyard is rarely more than a turn away from being castable.
  • + Excellent versus common midrange decks. Spell Snares have innumerable targets, opposing disruption isn't very good against us, and little bits of here-and-there card advantage mean trading one-for-one is a winning proposition.
  • + Topdeck wars are nearly unloseable. As if the Raven's Crime + Life from the Loam lock wasn't brutal enough, this deck takes it to the next level with Alchemist's Refuge. It's easy to create a game state in which only instants and manlands are at all relevant threats.
  • + Opposing graveyard decks. Access to four Scavenging Oozes makes fighting off decks like Living End fairly manageable, even pre-board.
  • - Going wide. One-for-one is all well and good until you run into a Blade Splicer or Restoration Angel (or both!), or worse yet, tokens. An extra Damnation and a pair of Golgari Charms out of the board helps the situation, but it's still grim.
  • - Life gain. This deck very rarely deals damage at a rate greater than three at a time. Kitchen Finks combo lifegain is lights out, and even though we can eventually take over the game against Soul Warden decks, we are likely to mill ourselves out before we can inflict the final point of damage.
  • - Combo decks, including burn. Spell Snare only hits so much, Cryptic Command is often too slow, and spell damage is hard to defend against in a deck built around blockers and Jace, Vryn's Prodigy's +1. Shadow of Doubt helps in some situations such as Scapeshift or Primeval Titan, and Ashiok, Nightmare Weaver can undo the hard work of Serum Visions, but it's still a bad spot to be in.
  • - Graveyard hate. While a full four copies of Spell Snare fights off Rest in Peace fairly well, Relic of Progenitus is another story entirely. Thoughtseize it away, or the game is as good as over.

This list is a tweaked version of a build I tried out online in the spring, which surprisingly outperformed my expectations. I'll be giving it another go in this form in the weeks to come and see how it fares.

Well, that's all we've got for this week. I hope you enjoyed this build and are able to test it out yourself.

As always, have fun, and may the force be with brew.